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What Is Psychological Egoism?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Psychological egoism is a philosophical principle that suggests everything a person does is based on his or her own personal desires. It is the opposite of altruism, which generally means that someone acts to help others and not to benefit themselves. The egoism concept is based on a belief that all a person’s actions are for them only, even if some don’t seem like it. Despite this, psychological egoism doesn’t claim this is right or wrong, just that it is a fact. Some professionals in psychological health believe that humans are conditioned to think helping other people will benefit them, but others believe there is more to it.

Even in the case of helping someone else, psychological egoism defines such actions as ways to avoid being punished or to be socially accepted. Selfless acts can also be perceived as ways to avoid guilt or discomfort, as well as to receive the praise of a reward. When someone helps another person, he or she can be in a better mood; this also helps advocates of psychological egoism build their case. Even actions like saving another person’s life can be attributed to avoiding the consequences of not doing so.

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Empirical arguments are often used to prove that psychological egoism is the dominant human condition. Efforts to help others or act in other ways that don’t seem to be self-beneficial can often be argued to be so. Studying for a test all night is one example, because of the consequences of failing an exam. The satisfaction can be just mental. Performing a habit with no benefit or which can even be harmful, such as smoking, may just be to avoid temporary discomfort.

Psychological egoism does not explain proper behavior. It generally says it is a fact that people act for themselves. Statements made typically true based on their structure are called tautologies, which are often used as tools to prove people act only on their egos. Such statements are often applied to psychological theory to explain human behavior. In the case of a psychological disorder, however, the causes of a person’s action can be a result of his or her underlying neurological condition.

Psychological egoism and other ethical theories are used to help gauge psychological health, describe human development from childhood on, and analyze personal identity. From a diagnostic perspective, mood, cognitive, anxiety, and personality disorders are often more significant. Mental health can be scientifically and philosophically analyzed in psychological therapy.

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